Spellbound: Behind the Stories

In last October’s anniversary post Eight Is Great, I gave you a brief  rundown of the history of Spellbound and its locations. In response to some questions I’ve fielded from customers, I’ve decided to write about what was left out of that post: why Spellbound stayed so downsized inside Zapow gallery for so long–from February 2012 to now.

At the time of that anniversary post, it was all too fresh for me to write about. I’m also a very private person, and I like to keep my personal life and business life separate. Unfortunately, sometimes that becomes impossible.

As discussed in this recent podcast interview, by the fall of 2011 I had decided not to renew Spellbound’s  lease at our Wall Street location downtown for a few reasons. For one thing, while we had gained a lot of business from tourists by moving downtown, many local customers expressed how challenging it was to get to Spellbound now that we were downtown, especially when shopping with small children. Most said they preferred Spellbound being in West Asheville–even those customers who don’t live or work in that neighborhood. For another thing, our rent at the Wall Street location was going to increase if we stayed and, though Wall Street is a lovely street, our store is so specialized that we weren’t getting enough foot traffic there to make me confident that Spellbound could afford rent any higher–especially since locals weren’t shopping with us as frequently there.

So I informed our landlords that we would not be renewing and began searching for a new home for Spellbound. I felt pretty strongly that we would probably end up back in West Asheville, where it all began. As the end of the year (and the end of our lease) drew near, however, no space had been located. I spoke with many friends and customers about wanting to make sure I didn’t rush into signing a lease on just any space—I wanted it to be the right space, and I wanted it to be the last time I had to move this bookstore. (I hate moving!)

One of the people I chatted with about this was Lauren Patton, who had just opened an art gallery called Zapow with her husband Matt Johnson. We had been talking for months about how we wanted our businesses to work together somehow, as the gallery was going to have a unique focus on illustration, and what goes together better than children’s books and illustration?

Lauren and Matt invited Spellbound to move into their gallery space. They had just opened and needed to fill space, and I needed a way to keep my store open without rushing into signing a long-term lease. I was offered the chance to take as little or as much space as I wanted for the bookstore, and I didn’t have to sign a long-term lease. Since it was about to be the dead of winter, when sales always drop off a cliff, I decided to just take a wee bit of space for a couple of months and we talked about a couple of different scenarios: Spellbound could expand to take up a lot of the Zapow space, perhaps with dividing walls between the two business or perhaps leaving it open; or perhaps it would be a temporary stop on the way to a new permanent home for the bookstore.

Sadly, only a month after downsizing and moving our inventory into Zapow’s space, my family was thrown into a crisis of the kind that many of you have probably experienced and can relate to. My mother got very ill very quickly, and was diagnosed with cancer. By the time it was caught, it had already spread from her lungs to her brain. Suddenly, she was in and out of the hospital every few days, was started on radiation therapy immediately…and my siblings and my father and I tried to make sure that at least one of us was with her all the time, wherever she was. Our hometown is Marion, about 30 miles east of Asheville. Sometimes she was in the hospital there, sometimes here.

Thanks to my arrangement with Matt and Lauren of Zapow, the three of us were now sharing customer service duties of both businesses, meaning that we could now have both businesses open seven days a week while we each got a little more time away from the cash register to work on all the other things that need to be done, as well as actually having some time off. Needless to say, this became very important as my mother’s disease progressed. Before the Zapow move, as the only full-time staff member of Spellbound I had to be at the store six days a week in order to keep it open (and therefore be able to pay both the business’s bills and my own). If I had still been in that situation when this crisis hit, I don’t know how I would have handled it. I certainly would not have been able to care for my mother as much or simply spend much time with her in what turned out to be her final months.

Understandably, I think, while all of this was going on, all thoughts of either expanding within the Zapow space or searching for a new location were just put on hold for several months. When things were settled down, I decided that the best thing for Spellbound would be to have its own stand-alone location outside of downtown again. And so the search for property began anew, and an Indiegogo campaign was launched to make sure that Spellbound could afford a really nice space and outfit it with good lighting, signage, etc., and bump our inventory up to pre-recession size and then some. (Campaign is live until May 15th, 2013–please visit today to see the great free gifts you can earn for contributions.) We also have changes planned that should allow Spellbound to add an assistant manager position before long, which will be an investment in the bookstore’s ability to provide more programming in the short term and in its ability to better weather another crisis even in a stand-alone space. Of course, none of the funds raised through the campaign will pay anyone’s salary directly, least of all mine. The expected jump-start in sales as well as the addition of room rentals and higher margin used books are what will fuel any job creation.

I know that for every person who actually asked me about our downsizing, there are probably several others who wondered “Hey, what’s the deal?” without actually asking. In light of the crowd funding campaign, in which I am asking people to contribute to Spellbound’s growth, I felt that I needed to be more transparent, as the saying goes, regarding our current location.

I’m sorry for the delay in returning to normal size (as opposed to our current Fun Size version), and I am so very grateful to the many people who have continued to be loyal Spellbound customers in each location. I hope that very soon you will be rewarded with the biggest, best version of Spellbound yet….and that this really will be the last time I ever have to move this bookstore!

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